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Attention Funders: It’s Time You Pull Up, Not Out

The nonprofit sector however will not come out unscathed.


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Ramneet Sachdev

3 years ago | 4 min read

Now more than ever, in the US, we’re starting to see a reckoning in the private and public sector.

We’ve hit a moment in the culture where Black & Brown employees are empowered to speak up and company leadership can be held accountable for their actions, whether motivated by fear of exposure/bad press or in some cases, by genuine interest in reform.

This month, leadership at Crossfit, The Wing, Bon Appetit and Ban.do have stepped down in light of Black & Brown employees speaking out against racist workplace cultures these leaders created.

These company leaders created, sustained, and trained other white leaders to cultivate a toxic and racist workplace culture that up until now, remained unchecked.

Most likely these companies will institute BIPOCs in leadership, undergo anti-racism training, and slowly take steps to create a safer environment for BIPOC employees.

These companies will continue to stay operational and will return profits in the future.

The nonprofit sector however will not come out unscathed.

Just in the last week, Crisis Text Line employees staged a virtual walkout and penned an open letter to the Board asking for the removal of Nancy Lublin, the Cofounder and CEO after detailing a long history of racism and emotional abuse in the workplace.

Planned Parenthood of Greater New York and Women Deliver are two more nonprofits calling for the removal of their CEOs and other leaders in the org due to blatant racism inflicted on its Black & Brown employees.

Removing toxic leadership, instituting bias, harassment and anti-racism training, promoting BIPOC employees are all good steps to move towards a more equitable company. But in order for nonprofits to do this, their funders need to remain by their side.

This is not the time for funders to distance themselves from nonprofits most of which still uphold an important mission and serve vital communities.

Remember, while nonprofits work towards rectifying their corporate culture, it’s BIPOC employees who are doing the good work.

They are the ones getting paid less and doing more of the labor. They are the ones on the ground upholding the company’s mission and values.

If as a funder, your first instinct is to pull funding from a nonprofit that has recently been exposed as having an unsafe corporate culture for BIPOC employees, you’re exhibiting a form of White Fragility.

Dr. Robin DiAngelo defines White Fragility as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.”

The organization and the BIPOC employees doing the work need you now more than ever. Do not distance yourself from the conflict.

Doing so only depletes resources and hurts the mission, the employees, and the beneficiaries of the services further exacerbating the racism problem and inequalities in our country.

Deal with your white fragility on your own by looking in the mirror and facing your own complicity.

Don’t shy away from the cause or the difficult conversations. By rescinding funding, nonprofits will be forced to downsize and BIPOC employees will be affected yet again.

I’m calling on funders to do their part. Demand nonprofits to be anti-racist in the work that they do, the culture they carry and in the people that they serve. Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Commit with nonprofits during this moment of transition
  • Be an active part in changing the workplace culture and by changing yourself. Lead by example
  • Change the terms of your grant/money; include a diverse leadership team as part of the grant
  • Include safe and anti-racist culture as a funding criteria. Value a safe and anti-racist culture to the same degree as external community impact metrics
  • Ask a nonprofit to provide a diversity and inclusion report and look at the average compensation for BIPOC employees, number of BIPOCs in leadership, retention data for BIPOCs
  • Seek out companies that have reoccurring bias, harassment and anti racism trainings for all staff
  • Talk to or survey all levels of employees about their experience working at the company
  • Refrain from tying grant money to one specific person in leadership. For example, if a 2 million dollar grant is tied to a company keeping a CEO in power, it’s harder for BIPOC employees to speak up against their CEO for fear of losing much needed funding

If all else fails, the opportunity to fund nonprofits that serve Black communities and led by Black leaders still exist.

A study looking at philanthropy trends between 2012–2015 found that white led nonprofits had budgets that were 24 percent larger than those led by People of Color.

A type of Philanthropic Redlining. Another study found that less than one-quarter of Black led organizations have the financial means to sustain an unexpected financial hardship without having to make significant adjustments to their operating budgets.

It’s no longer acceptable for funders to pull out. We need you to pull up. When BIPOC employees speak up about their racist leadership in a private company, they fear losing their jobs.

When BIPOC employees speak up about their racist leadership in their nonprofit, they fear losing their jobs but most importantly, losing all of the direct assistance they provide to the community they serve.

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